"Oh, my God!" the young woman with the glossy black hair exclaimed. "I haven't seen you in forever-o!"
"I know-o!" I responded, my voice contorted into the absurd Spanglish dialect we'd perfected as our own. "I cannot believe it-o!"
"Oh, my gosh, BB, how long has it been?"
"Years. At least two years."
"I think it's been longer than that."
The last time I'd seen Peruvian Girl was while I was attending Major University, but the intervening time had done nothing to dampen a familiarity that we quickly resumed as we strolled in the park, clutching our coffees to our chests and raising our hands against the light summer rain.
College brought many wonderful new friends, but Peruvian Girl was one of the few who predated my university years, a girl who knew me when BrightenedBoy was truly a boy, eighteen and innocent and with a world of hurt ahead of him.
Before long we were reminiscing about the same stories we'd gone over a dozen times before--"and then your brother left me in the woods"--and sharing the inevitable details of siblings growing and lives changing.
"My sister is graduating from college this fall, and my brother will be eighteen in September! How did this happen? BB, you were seventeen when we met."
Time has dealt us both some blows, hers in the form of a breakup and mine in the form of a breakdown, and both our bodies and our achievements have fallen short of the ambitions we had for them. She's twenty-four years old and once again living with her parents; I'm twenty-six years old and in the same position. We were both once substantially more attractive than we are now and we both feel it.
"We are each carrying a little chub," she noted, making an observation I would have permitted very few people to make. She clutched her stomach. "I used to be so skinny."
When she learned how my new bulge had come about, tears welled in her eyes.
"BB, I don't know what I would have done if someone had called me or I'd seen it on Facebook. Did you really almost die?"
But in between bemoaning what we were and what we failed to be, there were bright glimmers of something very different.
"I think I'm going to go back to school and finish my degree," she said. "My mother says I'm too old, but what does she know? I'm twenty-four. I can't work in a restaurant the rest of my life."
"That's funny," I said. "Because I'm starting graduate school this fall. To be a teacher."
"BB, that is so great!"
"And you know, we're both going to be hot again."
"Oh, I know-o. I started hitting the gym today."
Peruvian Girl knew me before, before my own mind betrayed me and I came unmoored in a spiral of death and drinking and mania. She knew me before I stopped being me for a little while. And her unblinking faith in the sweet, beautiful BB of yore, the one she met and grew to love, reminded me both of what I was and what I could be.
I'm still that person. As I move forward with a boy's spirit wedded to an adult's experience and, yes, wisdom, I can shine as bright as I ever did and maybe even brighter. In the mail there's a graduate entrance exam application that holds my future. In my new phone there's an app that tracks my weight every single day, counting down the forty-five pounds I have to lose by January 1, 2015. Twenty miles to my west there's a school where my career will begin.
I did not die at twenty-five. And my life is far from over.